The Inbetweeners: Series 1

The Inbetweeners: Series 1

****1/2

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

After his parents separate, posh snob Will (Simon Bird) is less than thrilled at having to leave private education and transfer to an ordinary comprehensive school at the start of sixth form, meaning he’ll have to make new friends. Though initially ridiculed by everyone, the highly-strung Simon (Joe Thomas) eventually takes pity on Will after being assigned to show him round, introducing his two other buddies, the lying, sex-obsessed Jay (James Buckley) and slow-witted simpleton Neil (Blake Harrison). Neither in with the cool kids or the geeks, these guys exist as “inbetweeners”, constantly striving to improve their social standing and get laid…

Before surfacing as the runaway hit that everyone you knew was watching and discussing on Facebook, The Inbetweeners flew largely beneath the pop culture radar. Though appearing like just another substance-less attempt to cash in on younger audience’s tendency to devour any TV that remotely related to their lives, it was a happy surprise to discover a wonderfully-observed rendering of adolescence which boasted a constant flow of well-drawn, that-happened-to-me moments. No doubt, today’s youngsters will enthusiastically lap it up too, but many twenty and thirty-somethings will arguably appreciate it even more, feeling like they’re re-living their ‘glorious’ formative years.

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Created and written by Damon Beesley and Iain Morris (who worked on The 11 O’Clock Show), the schoolboys-obsessed-with-sex angle might recall American Pie, but this is a show concerned with what it’s like growing up and babe-hunting in modern British suburbia. Miles away from those glamorised, unrecognisably cool teen-shows that we see all the time, The Inbetweeners is something you can actually relate to, like a fizzier, easier-to-recommend Peep Show. Beesley and Morris clearly understand the honest dynamics of young guy banter, perfectly encapsulating the way they talk, act and behave. For some, it’ll be like looking into a time-rewinding mirror.

Predictably, part of the fun is identifying which one of this likeable group you and your mates would’ve been. Simon is the sensitive ‘normal’ one we identify with, Jay the entertainingly laddish bullshitter and Neil the endearingly simple thicko. As the ‘main’ character and our narrator, immature audiences will probably label Will a killjoy and dislike his unintentionally condescending nature, but he pushes the group forward and his call-things-as-they-really-are commentary (which constantly challenges Jay’s obvious lies) is a real joy. The parents are great fun too, from Belinda Stewart-Wilson as Will’s MILF mum to teacher-turned-comedian Greg Davies as hateful head of sixth form, Mr Gilbert.

Sure, the hip indie soundtrack and catchy dialogue will endear it to the youth demographic (insults like “Bumder”, a mixture of bummer and bender, are sure to enter everyday vocabulary), but it’s the pinpoint accuracy achieved in realising the male teenage experience that makes the show. Along with that debilitating, uncomfortable-in-your-own-skin awkwardness, many familiar rites of passage are portrayed so well that they’ll strike a nostalgic chord. Crap house parties, trying to buy booze with fake ID, attempting to get served in a pub, skiving school to play Pro Evo, straining to hit 100mph in your first naff car… all captured with such perfect attention to detail that you can’t help but be reminded of your own experiences.

In particular, the manner in which everything for boys at that age boils down to scoring with girls (seriously, everything) is spot on. Whether it’s Simon’s continual quest to win over childhood sweetheart Carly (Emily Head), or Will’s surprisingly effective campaign to bed popular Charlotte (Emily Atack), the song remains recognisable. Whenever hormones enter the equation, either good sense exits stage left, drink comes into play or small happenings (like waiting on a text reply from a girl), are blown up to disproportionate levels of importance.

At the risk of sounding like a party-crashing cynic, at times the show does go overboard and too broad in search of laughs. No question, some of these are inspired moments of genius - like the lads pulling out at a junction into the middle of a funeral procession - but occasionally they frustrate by going past the point of believable plausibility, i.e. Jay jumping on Football Friend’s car, Simon accusing Neil’s dad of paedophilia. Of course, without such talking points the show probably wouldn’t have proved so popular (as most TV fans like their comedy obvious), but by toning them down the effect would’ve felt more realistic, and wittier by extension.

That said, The Inbetweeners is indisputably a very funny experience, with killer lines and creative insults coming thick and fast. Though evidently more concerned with comedy than drama, the show is capable of being poignant too. Will realising Charlotte isn’t his girlfriend, the boys coming round for him after this, Jay having a self-aware epiphany… the co-creators rarely linger on these moments too long (obviously knowing impatient viewers get restless in-between toilet gags), but they’re affecting nonetheless.

And, during the lad’s feel-good post-party trampoline chat (which makes you want to call your mates and reminisce), you realise something: despite the fact that back then you had little in common with your schoolmates aside from tragic shared attempts to get girls who’d choose older rugby players over you, those were still the best days of your life.

More than just another teen comedy looking to tap into the young audience market, The Inbetweeners is well worth a watch. Or, as Will himself would say, brilliant.

Reviewed on: 09 Sep 2011
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The Inbetweeners: Series 1 packshot
The exploits of four friends, who are socially only marginally above what one of them calls "the freaks", are presented as they grow from their late teen years into adults and as they go on their quest, usually unsuccessfully, for such grown up things as beer and sex.
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